Subaqueous debris flows undergo various flow transformations, involving dilution and stripping of surface materials, penetration of ambient water into the flow interior, and detachment and disintegration of hydroplaning flow fronts. The surface transformation is a self-limiting process because the products of the process, such as an overriding suspended-sediment cloud or an armor of gravel at the flow front, inhibit effective working of the process. The degree of flow transformation therefore depends largely on whether a debris flow hydroplanes or not. For a subaqueous debris flow to hydroplane, its densiometric Froude number should be larger than 0.4, and the time scale of pore-pressure decay should be larger than the duration of a debris flow. In addition, a debris flow should be devoid of an extremely permeable girth of openwork gravel around the flow head because high pressures cannot be sustained underneath the gravelly material.
Detailed sedimentological measurements and estimation of flow properties for three debris-flow beds in the Miocene fan deltas in SE Korea suggests that only a pebbly debris flow with a muddy (impermeable) matrix hydroplaned. On the other hand, bouldery debris flows are interpreted to have not hydroplaned irrespective of the nature of matrix. Nonhydroplaning debris flows were subject mainly to surface transformation and were outrun by surface-transformed suspended-sediment flows and debris-fall blocks after the flows entered a base-of-slope setting. Deposits of nonhydroplaning debris flows therefore overlie deposits of turbidity currents and debris falls. In the case of a hydroplaning debris flow, large chunks of debris could be detached from the flow front repetitively to form a series of small-volume flows that proceeded in front of the host debris flow. The preceding flows were promptly diluted to produce voluminous suspended-sediment clouds and were outrun by the faster-moving host debris flow. A deposit from a hydroplaning debris flow is therefore associated with thick and extensive turbiditic deposits that may either underlie or overlie the host debris-flow deposit. The turbiditic deposits associated with a hydroplaning debris flow are distinguished from those of a nonhydroplaning debris flow in that the former contain abundant gravel clasts and chunks of poorly sorted and clast-rich debris that cannot be suspended by the surface transformation process but were more likely derived from the detached fronts of a hydroplaning debris flow. These differences in sediment volume and grain size of turbiditic deposits and the stacking pattern of related debrites and turbidites provide a clue to the behavior of subaqueous debris flows.